January 14, 2013

Telling Stories

I recently read this article by Steve Almond in the New York Times magazine. In it, Almond stressed the importance of narration and storytelling. “On a grand scale,” he writes, “we’ve traded perspective for immediacy, depth for speed, emotion for sensation, the panoramic vision of a narrator for a series of bright beckoning keyholes.”

In other words, we’re so bombarded with information and images and videos from the internet and television that we’ve lost the ability to tell a story. And stories are how we make sense of our lives.

The Bible is an important part of that story, but is itself a somewhat fragmented narrative. Of course, I believe that certain themes come through: forgiveness and love and hope and sin. Still, it’s not enough to simply offer people a Bible, a Book of Common Prayer, and access to the internet and hope they can figure it out. It is part of our job to show why we believe.

Of course, certain churches have a clear story they tell: you must believe in Jesus Christ in order to go to heaven. What is the story the Episcopal Church is telling, a church that is more diverse theologically and has a story that is more difficult to summarize in a sentence or two?

Without a Pope, I doubt the Episcopal Church is ever going to decree what one must believe to be saved. That lack of dogma is what allows someone like me, a doubter, to remain in the church. But we do have to offer something of ourselves and our own understanding to the world.

Every Sunday at St. Lydia’s there is a time to “share the sermon,” in which congregants are invited to offer a story or experience that is evoked by the sermon or the scripture reading. It’s not a time to offer opinions, but to connect our stories and experiences to the larger story of the church.

The Episcopal Church is made up of many stories. Everyone has a story about how they make meaning of their lives, and what being a follower of Christ means to them. I think we simply don’t offer enough opportunities to tell these stories.

Each time we tell our story, we are offering a vision and a model for faith. We are telling each other, here is what I believe and why. Here is how I make sense of an often baffling life. Here is how I follow Christ.

As you prepare your programming for the coming year, are you offering opportunities for congregants to tell each other their stories?